Rajan's Wrong 'un: Only fans can save cricket's future from being mired in the IPL cesspit
Whenever vast sums of money flood into a sport, corruption is a risk
Amol Rajan was appointed editor of The Independent in June 2013. He was previously Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and News Reporter. He writes a restaurant column for The Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Thursdays). He presents ‘Power Lunch’ on London Live TV (Thursdays), a one-to-one interview with the most influential people in the capital. Previously, Amol worked on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office. He is currently a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He has also written a book called ‘Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket’s Greatest Spin Bowlers’.
Sunday 26 May 2013
What, to the true lover of our great sport, could possibly be more distressing than the news three professionals with huge followings – including a former Test bowler – have been arrested on suspicion of spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League?
The lethargic, plodding, and incurious initial reaction of the cricket fraternity, who gave a giant shrug of the shoulders, expressed no shock, disdain or conviction whatsoever, and went merrily on their way, plotting how to extract maximum profit from the IPL final between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians.
Ankeet Chavan, Ajit Chandla, and former Test seamer Sreesanth were arrested in Mumbai on 16 May. Of course, they may be cleared of all charges. Yet all the reports and reaction coming out of the sub-continent were full of gloomy and subdued resignation, suggesting this is the tip of a giant iceberg, which was about to melt under the Indian sun and reveal all manner of dastardly practice.
And initially, at least, the authorities did little. News trickled out from the absurd Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) very slowly; horror and disapproval came there none. This is because IPL is on the road to becoming a domain where participants are considered guilty until proven innocent.
At this point, I hope readers will allow me a little leeway in using my own Indian heritage to suggest why the IPL is vulnerable to foul play. There are two main reasons. The first is Indian culture itself. No seasoned observer of this vast and sprawling nation could doubt that corruption plays a central role in a great many administrative enterprises.
Indeed, just over the past few years, an extraordinary telecoms scandal has engulfed the Government, even besmirching the reputation of the heroic Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. At village, district, city, state and national level, bureaucracies abound with backhanders that oil the wheels of work.
Naturally IPL, thrown into this mix, would be prone to the same influences – and this brings us on to the second reason. Whenever vast sums of money flood into a sport, turning it ever more from a game into a business, there is a huge risk of corruption. It's no wonder that Formula One, the most lucrative of sports, was immersed in scandal a few years ago. The more the money, the greater the risk – and with IPL, the sums are vast.
And yet for all that, over recent days it has been possible to espy grounds for genuine hope. "If there is hope," says Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984, "it lies with the proles." Similarly, if there is hope for IPL, it lies with the fans.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, demonstrators came out across India to vent their fury at the news of the arrests. The scale of the protests took the authorities by surprise – and so jolted them into action. Further arrests were made. Social media frenzies erupted. Statements were issued, and constables put into action. My favourite placard read "BAN INDIA PAISA LOOT LEAGUE". That spells IPLL – but at least the sentiment is right.
It's always a good sign, too, when Rahul Dravid, that great gentleman of modern India, is wheeled out to give his response to the tensions, which he did on announcing his retirement from Twenty20 after losing Friday's semi-final. It shows authorities are taking matters seriously.
The IPL stinks. It resembles a sporting cesspit. But it is also the future of cricket. We have to make it work. Too much is at stake. If there is hope, it lies with the fans.
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